x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Anguished father of fisherman killed off UAE coast by US Navy speaks of loss

'Daily we think of him and feel there is nothing left of our life,' says the father of the Indian fisherman who was fatally shot by crew aboard the USNS Rappahannock.

A report released a week ago said US servicemen on the naval refuelling vessel USNS Rappahannock used
A report released a week ago said US servicemen on the naval refuelling vessel USNS Rappahannock used "appropriate force" and acted in self-defence. US Navy Handout / Reuters

DUBAI // The father of a fisherman shot dead by the US navy off Jebel Ali port last year is angered and disappointed at the American investigation clearing the security crew aboard the USNS Rappahannock.

The report released a week ago said US servicemen on the naval refuelling vessel used "appropriate force" and acted in self-defence.

One Indian fisherman died and three others were injured when the USNS Rappahannock security team fired a .50-calibre machine gun at the Emirati fishing trawler, Tharath, on July 16 last year near Jebel Ali port.

Arumugam, the father of Sekar, 28, who died instantly, said he had hoped the US would acknowledge some blame for firing on unarmed fishermen.

"They [the US] made a mistake and should have said so," said the anguished father. "How could they not have seen that it was a small boat and not a threat. Couldn't they have seen with binoculars that there were only fishermen on the boat? Why did they fire so many bullets? My son would have lived if they had not fired so much."

While expressing regret, the US report concluded that a thorough investigation showed the fishing trawler's rapid speed, apparent collision course and failure to respond to laser flashes and warning shots in the water led the naval security team to believe the boat "represented an imminent threat and was demonstrating hostile intent".

After the shooting, the US Navy paid 500,000 Indian rupees (Dh33,675) in compensation to Mr Arumugam and Dh3,300 to each of the three injured men. This matched pay-outs given by India's southern Tamil Nadu state government, where the fishermen come from.

"What use is this money when our son would have looked after us in our old age," said Arumugam, who uses only one name.

"Daily we think of him and feel there is nothing left of our life."

The injured fishermen said payouts would not compensate for the upheavals in their lives with loss of employment, constant pain from the bullet injuries and recurring hospital visits.

Back in their hometown of Rameshwaran, they are worried it will be a while before they can work.

"I'm in pain when I walk, doctors have told me that I cannot lift heavy things," said Muthu Kannan, who was struck by bullets in his buttocks and leg and is anxious about providing for his three young children at the ages of between two and eight.

"How will I take care of them when I cannot work? We are fishermen. We had no weapons. Why could they not see that? How could they not know that ours is a fishing boat?"

Things have also not been easy for Muthu Muniraj, 28, who was shot in the legs.

"I have to walk with the help of crutches. I'll have to be operated on again in a year and only after that the doctors will determine if I can walk without support."

He now relies on his aged parents and is living off handouts from neighbours. Mr Muniraj's wife left him due to his inability to earn.

"Her parents took her back to their home because they think I cannot support her any more. I told them that I'll find work as a driver in a few months once the wounds heal but they do not believe me. I don't think I can ever return to fishing as I cannot lift anything heavy anymore."

Nine months after the incident, Mr Muniraj maintains no warning was given by the US Navy.

"We would have at least heard, if not seen, the shots. Rules require navies to fire warning shots. They could have waited before firing as it was a matter of our lives."

rtalwar@thenational.ae

pkannan@thenational.ae